Iowa Learning Farms Webinar: Science-Based Restoration and Management of Functional Floodplain

The Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) conservation webinar taking place Jan. 25 at noon CST will feature Maria Lemke, director of conservation science, The Nature Conservancy, Illinois. Lemke is a freshwater biologist with the Conservancy who works with partners to implement and quantify the effectiveness of agricultural conservation practices in the Mackinaw River watershed. Her research encompasses understanding the effectiveness of agricultural practices in improving water quality and hydrology and floodplain restoration metrics at the Emiquon Preserve in central Illinois.

Iowa Learning Farms is an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach conservation and water quality education program.

In the webinar, “The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve: Science-Based Restoration and Management of Functional Floodplain Along the Illinois River,” Lemke will highlight the history and restoration progress in the Emiquon Preserve, a historic floodplain that was separated from the river by levees in the 1920s for agricultural production. She will discuss the project objectives of restoring ecological floodplain processes and habitats that promote and sustain native species and communities. In addition, Lemke will showcase the Key Ecological Attributes (KEA) framework for assessing restoration success.

“With the recent completion of a water control structure, we are well-positioned to improve the conservation status of those floodplain and riverine targets in the preserve that depend on water management and river connectivity,” said Lemke. “Our efforts and studies of the Emiquon Preserve make a significant contribution to understanding large river floodplain restoration in the central United States region and have implications for restoration of critically threatened river ecosystems. The KEA framework provides for strategic and systematic monitoring and consistent assessments which can support similar restoration of ecological integrity efforts in watersheds and floodplains.”

Participants are encouraged to ask questions of the presenters. People from all backgrounds and areas of interest are encouraged to join.

Webinar Access Instructions

  • Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived. All archived webinars are available on the ILF website, so that they can be watched at any time.

ILF has applied for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) for attending this webinar. Those who participate in the live webinar are eligible. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Upcoming Webinars in the Series:

Feb. 1: Kelsey Fisher, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station

Feb. 8: Pamela Stahke, USDA – Risk Management Agency

Feb. 15: Marshall McDaniel, Iowa State University

Feb. 22: Greg LaBarge, The Ohio State University


A Message from the Iowa Water Center

There’s not much we can say to fully capture the whirlwind of the last few weeks and what’s to come as we prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Iowa Water Center staff is fortunate in that we can work remotely, continuing to advance water science to meet Iowa’s water resource needs. We applaud those who are doing their part to practice social distancing and are eternally grateful to those providing essential services outside the comfort and safety of their homes.

We will greatly miss hosting the Iowa Water Conference this year. We know that the conference is more than just a professional development opportunity – seeing each other face-to-face, provoking critical thought, and engaging in productive dialogue with our colleagues is an invaluable activity that is difficult to replicate virtually. At the One Water Summit in Austin, TX this past September, Pisces Foundation President David Beckman said something that resonated with us: “Relationships ARE infrastructure!” This statement is the crux of the work that we do.

To that end, we encourage you to stay connected with each other, and with us, over the coming weeks and months. We planned to use the conference hashtag #IowaWater2020 on Twitter and Facebook for the rest of the year in an effort to keep the conversation going. Now, we’ll use it as we introduce you to water scientists and practitioners, produce and promote virtual learning opportunities, and engage you in the water conversation all year long. We hope you will use it, too.

Our focus will remain on building a robust and connected water science community. We look forward to adapting and innovating during these challenging times.


Iowa Water Center Kicks off a Learning Community for Water Resources Researchers


By Hanna Bates, Program Coordinator for the Iowa Water Center

On a Tuesday afternoon in early September, the Gold Room in the Iowa State University Memorial Union was filled with a diverse audience of faculty on campus from departments such as Design, Food Sciences, Natural Resources Ecology and Management, Agronomy, English, and others. As participants trickled into the room, they realized that though many of them had never met before, they have a research topic in common – water resources.

This meeting was to kick off the Iowa Water Center-led water resources research learning community, Water Scholars. This is a year-long program funded by a CEAH-OVPR New Explorations grant to support faculty research on campus. This program originated from a cursory directory search of campus departments conducted by IWC staff. This inventory led to the discovery that there are approximately 200 faculty members at Iowa State University whose research touches water in some way or another, but are working in different spaces both physically and topically. The goal of Water Scholars is to break down barriers between the arts and sciences to get researchers thinking outside the box and work together to create resilient research that addresses Iowa’s complex water resource concerns.

Water Scholars will meet on a monthly basis from September to April during the academic year. Sessions will explore professional development topics, such as science communication and grant tools, through engaging presentations. Supplanted by small group work, this program will enable attendees to make use of information given by presenters as well as give them the opportunity to build relationships with others in the water resources community on campus.


The methods we use to engage participants are, at times, unorthodox. At the first session, attendees shared their research topics through a game of Pictionary with other members of Water Scholars. This activity challenged faculty to translate research field jargon into accessible shapes and pictures on paper. As the game progressed, laughter and shared conversation could be heard throughout the room as people stepped outside of their comfort zone and got to know different research projects and interests in water from across campus.

2019-2020 is a pilot year for the Water Scholars. We plan on going statewide in the Fall of 2020 to help bring water resource faculty and professionals at college and universities across Iowa together to build communities of research that encourage the development of innovative, interdisciplinary research teams.

2019-2020 Water Scholars

  • Antonio Mallarino, Agronomy
  • Austin Stewart , Art and Visual Culture
  • Biswa Das, Community and Regional Planning and ISU Extension
  • Brian Gelder, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
  • Carmen Gomes, Mechanical Engineering
  • Chaoqun Lu, Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology
  • Clark Wolf, Philosophy, Political Science
  • Emily Zimmerman, Natural Resource Ecology and Management
  • Grace Wilkinson, Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology
  • Guiping Hu, Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering
  • John Tyndall, Natural Resource Ecology and Management
  • Jonathan Claussen, Mechanical Engineering
  • Keith Vorst, Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Kevin Roe, Natural Resource Ecology and Management
  • Kristie Franz, Geological and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Laura Merrick, Agronomy
  • Linda Shenk, English
  • Matthew Helmers, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
  • Nicole Hashemi, Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Omar de Kok-Mercado, Natural Resource Ecology and Management
  • Peter Moore, Natural Resource Ecology and Management
  • Ramesh Kanwar, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
  • Stewart Melvin, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
  • William Beck, Natural Resource Ecology and Management


00100sPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190328072958569_COVER (4)Hanna Bates is the Program Coordinator for the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of Iowa and an MS in Sociology and Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University. She is currently working on her MBA from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business. 

#IWConf20 Call for Presentation Proposals

Deadline: September 30, 2019 11:59PM

Iowa Water Conference 20/20: Bringing Our Water Vision into Focus

Scheman Building, Ames, Iowa

April 8-9, 2020

What does the path to meaningful change look like across the vast spectrum of water resource issues? Who are the drivers of change and who should be included at the table as critical change agents? The theme of the 2020 Iowa Water Conference is centered on answering these questions. We want to transform water resource work in the year 2020 to be 20/20 as an effort to refocus our vision of the future for how we can promote inclusive, resilient water resource management.

This conference will focus on our evolving relationship with water at a personal and societal scale, as well as what the future may hold if we continue our current trajectory. Through scientific discovery, diverse change agents, and foresight on future challenges, we will move into an equitable and verdurous world of the future.

The committee welcomes proposals on all water-related topics, but especially encourage submissions that address:

  • Equity, inclusion, and environmental justice
  • Innovations in agriculture for future resilience
  • Emerging water resource contaminants
  • Meeting future Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia targets
  • Social impacts on conservation
  • Mitigating climate change impacts on water resources
  • Nontraditional approaches to citizen engagement with water

Read more here.

Iowa Water Center request for stories

The Iowa Water Center is an unbiased, federally-funded Water Resources Research Institute that explores a diverse range of topics in water. We establish a public trust in scientific water information. We believe that consuming science-based information can empower individuals to be knowledgeable about their surroundings and to act in building better ecological and social communities. The Iowa Water Center uses the power of a story to address challenges in science communication.

We are open to receive submissions of written works and graphic materials that outline current research, projects, and primary source-based narratives about water resources in Iowa.


Our Audience: Water professionals, faculty and graduate students, engaged citizens, and citizen leaders

The blog, H2 in the Kn0w, is our venue in which we conduct outreach to engaged citizens, citizen leaders, and water professionals with scientific information and empirically informed editorials from researchers. Content for the blog is comprehensive, credible, and presented in a way that represents the most up-to-date status of water resources research.

Thematic areas:

  • Student-based work in water research and projects in communities
  • Editorial feature of perspectives in water science
  • Reviewing books, exhibits, art related to water
  • Summarizing innovative, recent water research
  • Previews and promotion of upcoming water research projects and presentations
  • First hand experiences and stories related to water

Posts may include: photos, video, figures, and other graphics

Requirements for writing:

  • Approximately 450 words in length
  • Photos, figures, graphics are highly encouraged
  • Videos are also accepted
  • A byline is required at the beginning of the text
  • A 1-2 sentence biographical summary of the author, including a photo, is required at the bottom of the text
  • References can be cited at the bottom of the post – no particular citation style is required

Posts should be submitted as a Word Document to Hanna Bates, Program Coordinator at the Iowa Water Center at

Iowa Water Center City Spotlight: Des Moines

By Joe Otto, Communications Specialist at the Iowa Water Center

The City Spotlight series highlights ongoing efforts by Iowans living in cities to address water issues impacting their neighborhoods.

Des Moines residents and officials working on watershed approach

The City of Des Moines is taking steps to improve emergency planning ahead of major flood events. In response to damaging floods in 2018, city officials formed a Flash Flood Committee to identify and study various flood-related emergency issues. The report was released in January of 2019 and can be viewed on the city’s website.

The flood event that triggered the report came in late June, when torrential rains fell across parts of the Raccoon and Des Moines River valleys upstream from the city. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning at 9:30pm on the night of June 30th. Over the next 24 hours Des Moines police dispatch answered nearly 1,700 calls and the fire department responded to over 150 calls for rescue or assistance. This heavy demand for services challenged the city’s public safety officials who in the report recommended more coordination across city departments and the possibility of issuing preemptive evacuation orders.

In addition to public safety, the report identified five areas where city officials and residents can better prepare themselves: communications before and during a flood, debris management and cleanup afterward, storm water infrastructure and capacity, insurance availability, and sustainable development and planning to lessen the damage of future floods.

From a communications standpoint the report recommends the creation of an emergency response plan that would be reviewed annually and spreading awareness through education and outreach during a “severe weather awareness week.” Other recommendations included the creation of an emergency communications website operated jointly by Polk County and the City of Des Moines, and encouraging neighborhood associations, residents, and businesses to form their own flood response plans.

The June floods generated over five million pounds of debris, which created logistical problems for public works and waste management officials. From a debris management standpoint, the report recommends establishing clear rules on curbside pickup of debris in the wake of a flood emergency, using GIS technology to map the most efficient routing for truck drivers picking up debris, designating areas in the city as debris drop-off sites, and distributing “bagster”-style cleanup bags to effected residents.

From an infrastructure standpoint, the report recommends changes to the city’s building permitting that would require new construction projects to meet environmental and stormwater mitigation standards that would be set by the City. Home and business owners are further encouraged to build their own stormwater management systems that include rain collection barrels, water gardens, and more grass cover. Public infrastructure is to be assessed for its capacity and augmented or replaced if needed. Costs to cover these changes would come from a 1% sales tax increase and a plan to set aside a higher percentage of property taxes and devote them to stormwater projects.

From an insurance standpoint the report recommends the city take steps to improve its Community Rating Score (CRS). Determined by FEMA, a city’s CRS is a valuation of how much effort it puts into flood protection and flood planning beyond the minimum standards set forth in the National Flood Insurance Program. Cities that exceed minimum standards are rewarded with lower scores, and consequently lower flood insurance rates. Des Moines currently has a CRS of 7, which translates to a 15% discount on federal flood insurance. The City of Cedar Falls, by comparison, has a CRS of 5 and qualifies for a 25% discount. Achieving a lower CRS score requires extensive, long-term planning of projects such as those outlined in the 2018 Flash Flood Report.

From a sustainability standpoint the report recommends a watershed approach to flood control and emergency planning. Such an approach would require public and private support from beyond the city limits of Des Moines, particularly among upstream communities. Possible routes of cooperation might include upstream communities participating in the FEMA CRS program, which qualifies them for federal funding for floodplain management planning. Of the six Iowa cities participating in the CRS program, the only city in the Des Moines/Racoon River watershed is Des Moines. Four are in the Iowa/Cedar watershed and one is along the Mississippi River. FEMA also allows counties to participate, of which there are three in Iowa that do: Linn, Story, and Pottawattamie; with Story being the only county that shares part of a watershed with the City of Des Moines.

Finding neighboring cities and counties in the watershed would go a long way towards better flood planning and preparedness during emergencies, which is the goal of a community group that contributed to the Flood Report. The sustainability portion of the Flood Report was written in consultation with the Des Moines Citizens Task Force for Sustainability. Established by the Office of the Des Moines City Manager, the Task Force was created as part of the city’s long-term strategic plan. The Task Force’s community contact, Carolyn Ulenhake Walker, would like to see more city resources devoted to long-term planning and flood resilience. When asked how she thought the city officials could move the needle on these issues, Ulenhake Walker recommended more attention be given to watershed planning; “Because we know extreme rain events are occurring more often, the taskforce thinks watershed projects need more attention and more money.” She was also supportive of looking for like-minded stakeholders outside of the city limits. The metro-adjacent cities of Ankeny and Clive are collaborating with Des Moines on watershed planning projects for the Walnut Creek and Four Mile Creek watersheds. Additional support is being provided by officials with Polk County’s Soil and Water Conservation office in Ankeny. Although these projects are still in the developmental stages, Ulenhake Walker is optimistic the watershed approach will be successful; “[We] would like city staff to really research this topic, as well as act upon the [watersheds approach] recommendation.”

des moines watershed map showing four mile and walnut creek watersheds

The author of the Flood Committee’s sustainability recommendations echoed the Task Force’s plea. Brian Campbell, Director of Sustainability Education at Simpson College, says that 2018 Flash Flood Report is an opportunity for the City of Des Moines to situate itself in broader conversations about sustainability and watershed planning; “Our hope would be that city leaders work to engage as broadly as possible – upstream and downstream, inside and outside Polk County.” Although a planning process involving multiple stakeholders can be painstakingly slow, Campbell is optimistic that the city can make quick progress by adopting models already in use elsewhere; “I’m not an expert in this area, but my sense is that something like the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) would be helpful to convene different stakeholders.” Both Campbell and Ulenhake Walker attended a fall 2018 meeting about the benefits of the IWA and incorporated their findings into the recommendations. The meeting was hosted by Des Moines-based engineering company RDG Design.

While the planning process slowly moves forward, the city has also taken short-term action. Homes in the areas hardest-hit by the June floods are being bought by the city. As of the end of 2018 the city has acquired 78 properties at a total cost of $10.5 million. Most of the properties lie along Four Mile Creek, on the city’s northeast side.

Residents interested in a watershed approach for Des Moines are encouraged to attend any regular meeting of the Citizen’s Taskforce on Sustainability. The group meets monthly, on the first and third Wednesdays, at 4:30pm. The meeting location is Ingersoll Park, at 4906 Ingersoll Ave. For more information contact Carolyn Ulenhake Walker at


Otto_Profile pictureJoe Otto is the Communications Specialist for the Iowa Water Center. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma, where he is writing a dissertation on the history of drainage in Iowa.

Do you live in a city facing a pressing water management issue? Let the Iowa Water Center put a spotlight on it. Contact for more information.

Works Cited

“2018 Flash Flood Report,” Des Moines City Council Workshop Reports. Accessed 1-9-2019.

Campbell, Brian. Director of Sustainability Education, Simpson College, personal communication, January 16, 2019.

City Manager, Office of.  “Sustainability Efforts.” City of Des Moines. Accessed January 24, 2019.

Daily Erosion Project. Iowa State University. Accessed January 24, 2019.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).“October 2017 NFIP Flood Insurance Manual, 20 CRS Section” Accessed 1-9-2019.

Iowa Watershed Approach, Accessed January 24, 2019.

Iowa Flood Information System. Iowa Flood Center, University of Iowa. Accessed January 24, 2019.

Ulenhake Walker, Carolyn. Community Contact for Des Moines Citizens Task Force for Sustainability, personal communication, January 15, 2019.

U.S. News and World Report. “Des Moines Spends $10.5M to Buy 78 Flood-Damaged Homes.” Accessed January 15, 2019.




Meet Joe Otto

Otto_Profile pictureJoe Otto joined the Iowa Water Center in November of 2018 as the Communications Specialist. His duties include academic researching, copy writing and editing, contributing to the Iowa Water Center blog, and engaging the public via meetings, educational presentations, and other professional outreach efforts.

From Jasper County in central Iowa, Joe grew up on an acreage near the city of Colfax. Growing up in rural Iowa allowed Joe to develop an appreciation for those unique places where land and water come together – ponds, creeks, swamps, strip mines, quarries, and the timbered bottomlands along Skunk River.

Joe holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Iowa State University, a Master’s degree in History from Appalachian State University, and is in the final stages of a PhD in History from the University of Oklahoma. He specializes in the agricultural history of Iowa with a focus on water management. His Master’s thesis was a case study of drainage district formation and administration in his home county of Jasper. His dissertation is an expanded history of drainage throughout Iowa from statehood to the 1920s. His research has taken him to county courthouses and small-town public libraries across Iowa, as well as several state and federal archives, and a few private collections.

As the Communications Specialist for the Iowa Water Center Joe looks forward to connecting Iowans to water-related research, conservation techniques, and meaningful stories in an accessible way. He also hopes to advance interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-pollination between social scientists and agronomic researchers who share an interest in conserving Iowa’s soil and water resources.

2018 One Water Summit – Iowa’s Commitment

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Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center at the One Water Summit in Minneapolis, MN.

Miller presented Iowa’s commitment to water during closing remarks at the 2018 One Water Summit. Iowa had a conference delegation of over 50 people representing agencies, non-profits, and educational institutions who make an impact on water.

“Water connects us all. This core belief drives our work in Iowa, one we’ve seen in action over the last five years and one we focus on in the year to come. We celebrate the fifth year of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, strengthened by the $97 million Iowa Watershed Approach to reduce flooding and improve water quality, as well as the Conservation Infrastructure action plan that brings together public and private sector partners to scale up those practices recommended by the science-based strategy. This next year, we commit to significant progress towards healthier watersheds as measured by conservation practices on the ground.”

-Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center


Meet our new Special Projects Assistant

Hello all,

My name is Tianna Griffin and I am excited to announce that I am Iowa Water Center’s new Special Projects Assistant!

I am pursuing an undergraduate degree in agronomy with an emphasis in agroecology and minoring in horticulture with an emphasis in fruit and vegetable production. I am from Davenport, Iowa, and I have had a strong interest in agriculture since middle school. My interest stemmed from wanting to learn and teach people about the food they ate and how it was grown. I wanted to know more about the beginning stages of growing food, and I knew that there was no better field for me to start with than agriculture. My interest in sustainable practices of water management and soil conservation led me to believe that the Iowa Water Center (IWC) was the perfect place for me to further my knowledge.

I appreciate IWC’s efforts to educate youth and communities on Iowa’s water and to unite Iowa women to have a voice and make a difference in the well-being of Iowa waters and the environment [editor’s note: IWC Associate Director Melissa Miller is a steering committee member for Women for Water]. In the span of my employment, I hope to learn more about Iowa water issues as well as improve my writing and communication skills. I also hope my time with IWC will lead me to improve my ability to work on a team and to get me out of my comfort zone of working independently. Upon graduating I would like to continue working towards the efforts of sustainability related to agricultural practices. Or, I would like to work for a company that produces fruit or vegetable crops in a warmer climate. Eventually, I would like to have my own business where I grow my own fruit and vegetable crops. There are so many options for me because my interests are so broad. I can only hope that I have a spiritually fulfilling and a purposeful career.

Tianna Griffin is Iowa Water Center’s Special Projects Assistant. She is pursuing an undergraduate degree in agronomy with emphasis in agroecology and minoring in horticulture with an emphasis in fruit and vegetable production.

2018 Iowa Water Conference – Call for Abstracts!

18 IWC wordmark.png

Success in water-related work, whether it is out in the farm field, a backyard, or in city infrastructure, cannot be achieved alone. It is done by a community and for a community. With that in mind, the Iowa Water Conference Planning Committee is happy to announce the theme for the 2018 Iowa Water Conference: “Our Watershed, Our Community.” This theme was inspired by the large, complex network of water-related professionals in Iowa that support local watershed work.

We invite water professionals, researchers, and graduate students to submit presentation abstracts centered around the theme of community in water. Through these presentations, applications should share success stories, challenges, and research that supports a foundation of community at the watershed-level.

The call for presentations, including instructions for submission, can be found here. Questions can be directed to Hanna Bates at We look forward to learning about your watershed experience!